on October 5, 2004
First off, I think this entire album is excellent, from the tormented "Tom Traubert's Blues" to the hysterical "The Piano Has Been Drinking" to the mellow "Jitterbug Boy." But even if abovementioned tunes did nothing for me, it would be made with the title track.
"Small Change" is one of the most chilling tunes I have ever heard. The combination of Waits' raspy voice, the instrumentals being a lone saxophone, and the bleak lyrics describing the crime scene and the gunned down gambler are more haunting than any ghost story you were told as a child. This is Tom Waits at his poetic best.
The bonus is that while this song steals the show, there is plenty to enjoy on the rest of the cd. The mood of the album gravitates toward the down & out pool hallers, hucksters, and all-around tormented souls. From heavy to humorous, this release has it all.
"Pasties and a G-String" is a hysterical salute to the old burlesque haunts, and the dancers and droolers that inhabit them. Like "Small Change," the focus is on one instrument, the drums, albeit in an entirely upbeat manner.
Other standout pieces are "Jitterbug Boy," a rare calming piano piece, singing the Jitterbug Boy's unlikely claims of places he's been and people he's met; "The One that Got Away," another hard-boiled hard-luck song showcasing some wicked saxophone, and "Invitation to the Blues."
This is easily one of Tom Waits' greatest efforts, though you can't go wrong with any of his earliest albums. Like I said, everything here is excellent, but "Small Change" alone is worth the money.
on August 28, 2005
Sometimes Tom Wait's 70's stuff sounds something like if you read Jack Kerouac over Kind Of Blue-era Miles Davis. If that's not enough to tempt you, he also has ballads that are musically rich, lyrically depthful and heartbreakingly beautiful all at once. Small Change is probably the most all-round example of this. If you want extremes, buy Nighthawks At The Diner for the former and Blue Valentine for the latter. Lot's of these tunes are already the stuff of legend - Tom Traubert's Blues, the title track, I Can't Wait To Get Off Work - but a lot of the gems on this you probably haven't heard of. I Wish I Was In New Orleans is perfection, no other word for it. Some may call this music too maudlin, too schmaltz - including Waits himself - but if you ignore the cynic inside of you, what you'll find is something that's not like any other record out there. There is no such thing as a bad Tom Waits record, and I'm not usually one to make such fanatic claims. Nowadays he's doing this great, mysterious, musically challenging and innovative thing. In the 80's he was mutating his 70's work into something very unique and magic indeed. In the 70's he was making music that made his world yours, completely sensational. Every song on Small Change is like a novel, every note is like gold. Listen to Invitation To The Blues, Bad Liver & A Broken Heart, Step Right Up - from ballads to beat, this guy is a heavyweight. Always has been, always will be.
on March 8, 2004
On this album Tom takes the listener to the same place "Notes from the Underground" takes the reader. It's a real world that daylight doesn't penetrate and heartbroken loners like Mr. Waits portrays wander the darkened streets alone. Anyone with a broken heart can relate to "Tom Taubert's Blues" and enjoy the fact that misery loves company and the singer is sharing a bench with you. In other words, this ain't no party cd. This is for listening and learning about another way of life.
on March 24, 2006
Some of Tom's greatest hits are here, Tom Traubert's Blues (Four Sheets To The Wind In Copenhagen), Step Right Up, I Wish I Was In New Orleans (In The Ninth Ward), The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me), Invitation To The Blues, Pasties And A G-String (At The Two O'Clock Club), The One That Got Away, Small Change (Got Rained On With His Own .38) and I Can't Wait To Get Off Work (And See My Baby On Montgomery Avenue).
Ok, did I pick most of the album? Well, that's because this really is, along with Heart of Saturday Night and Nighthawks at the Diner, one of his three classic 70's albums.
Tom Traubert's Blues got me misty eyed for decades.
Step Right Up is one of the funniest huckster word spinning takes on capitalism in existance.
The Piano Has Been Drinking is sublime. On first listening you get sucker punched at the end of the song. Every time I have heard it after that I'm enjoying his clever imagery and looking forward to that sweet, perfectly formed ending.
Pasties and a G-String is bawdy and puts you right there.
This is an album to cherish. He's fully into his character, it's the smokey piano lounge scene and it's in full bloom on this record. He takes us to his place deep in the heart of the city and we're never the same afterward.
Taken together with those other two 70's albums of his, the trilogy is one of the finest works of musical art presented to the public over the period of a decade ever. You could throw in One From the Heart if you wanted as the bookend of his 70's work despite it being done in 1981.
That's all we got of 70's Tom. His 80's reincarnation is not the same musical character. It's not so much a loss, as it is the same loss we all experience when we no longer are in our teens or 20's. There's a new version of us even though we're the same person. The good news is, Tom keeps giving us these gifts of music and word play that have stood the test of decades and, one can easily say, still touch hearts as long as people are around to hear it. email@example.com
on April 29, 1998
OHMIGOD this c.d. is choice. I am listening to it right now. There is a sensual beauty in the music but the real brilliance comes out in the lyrics. "You ask me what I'm doin' here, hold this old lamppost, flippin' this old quarter, tryin' to make up my mind... If it's heads I'll go to Tennessee, if it's tails I'll buy a drink, if it lands on the edge I'll keep talkin'... to... you..."
Waits' nostalgia and grinning, drunken comraderie come in his devastating growl and the pure poetry of his language. Gloomy yet headshakingly happy. "The Piano Has Been Drinking" is one of the best songs I have ever heard- "the carpet needs a haircut and the spotlight looks like a prison-break and the telephone's out of cigarettes and the balcony is on the make..." This album can actually change the atmosphere in the room- it is enlightening and intimate. There is nothing self-indulgent about it- it is about real life- waitresses and dead-end jobs, late-night liquor and broken down cars on bad streets. This is the blues, done with lots of hope and heart. I fell in love with this music instantly.
on January 7, 2002
How much do I love this recording? Well, let's go back to the 70's. There was always someone at a party who would troll through the hosts' record collection and select some atmosphere killing LP by Steely Dan, or Zappa, or Todd Rundgren, and, get this, they'd want you to love it too.I always left for the kitchen when this happened, but one party I guess I was a little slow afoot and I got hooked into hearing a couple of cuts from this wonderful album.So I went out and got it for myself. The first and last time a party troll ever influenced any record purchase of mine. On this ,Tom's fourth release, he completely succeeds in melding the Barfly-Bukowsky-Boho-meets The Beats influences into a cohesive and focused (if a barfly's eyes can focus)piece of work that is unmistakably Tom's own. It's hilarious (The Piano Has Been Drinking), sentimental in a good way (Tom Traubert's Blues, a song so good even disco era Rod Stewart couldn't ruin it)and hip,or hep as the case may be (Step Right Up). Everything on here is wonderful and the small authentic bopster/cool combo headed by L.A. jazz drummer Shelly Manne keeps everything swinging madly.Tom Waits is by no means an idiot and he realized he couldn't keep going to this same well.He handed the keys to his Caddy to Rickie Lee Jones and set out to make "serious" music that certain of my egghead friends assure me is a wonderful mix of Kurt Weill, musique concrete and a whole bunch of modern classical composers.Hmm...okay. Me, I'd rather be rained on with my own .38 .So I'll stick to old fashioned Tom Waits straight up with a twist. That's how much I love this record.
on July 27, 2002
While much hoopla has been made of Tom Waits' early 80's "Frank's Wild Years" trilogy,let's not forget the brilliant work of "Small Change,"Foreign Affair" and "Blue Valentine" from the mid to late 70's.I've long maintained that Waits'career could be divided into three categories:The early,folksy troubadorism of "Closing Time" and "The Heart of Saturday Night",
the "street poet at the piano" of the aforementioned trilogy,and the sonic,avante-gard expressionist of the 80's and 90's.
"Small Change" is a brilliant,essential work that both documents and celebrates the late night barfly lifestyle our hero had come to lovingly embrace at the time.From the first sung lyrics of the impossibly beautiful "Tom Traubert's Blues"- "Wasted and wounded,it ain't what the moon did,got what I paid for now" the mood is set for a joyride in a broken down jalopy through trash-strewn streets at 4am,past the hookers,transients,all-night diner's and strip joints that
haunt Waits' work from this era.His voice,ravaged by alcohol,cigarettes,and God know what else (remember this a guy who lived in a 9 dollar a night motel writing songs for the better part of a decade)maintains a beautiful quality and annotates these tales confidently.There's "Jitterbug Boy",the story of a drunk "holding up a lamp post",bragging of how he's done it all,from sleeping with Marilyn Monroe to having breakfast in the eye of a hurricane,all the while burning hundred dollar bills.On the classic "Invitation to the Blues",
we get the best song Springsteen never wrote.A business man just about to leave town falls for a waitress at a greasy spoon,
gives up his seat on the next bus out of town,and accepts her "invitation".Waits makes fun of corporate America's sale tactics on "Step right up",with a hilarious impression of a frenzied pitchman selling you "the only product you will ever need".Ironically Waits sued corporate America and won when Frito-Lay tried using the song to sell their chips without permission.
The title track is a jarring narrative half spoken,half sung
about a gangster named "Small Change" that gets "rained on with his own .38".If you've come to know Waits' work through
his 80's/90's offerings,keep in mind that work was a complete departure from his original motif,and I'd reccomend starting with "Heartattack and Vine" and working your way back.
But if you're a fan of America's best songwriters like Dylan,Springsteen,Robertson,et al,step right up to the
real deal.Those guys at one time or another had hit singles aplenty,but not Tom Waits.His stuff isn't just an observance of streetlife,booze,guns,fast women,loneliness and isolation,
it's a chronicled,first hand account of someone who truly LIVED it.And that don't make the top 40.
My advice would be to grab a bottle of anything on a rainy night
and play "Small Change",Foreign Affair" and "Blue Valentine" in a row and watch as the unlikeliest of musical heroes rises from your speakers and talks to your heart and soul as if he was sittin' right there with ya,sharin' that bottle.
on March 18, 2000
Don't hesitate to buy this CD. I've owned it for 12 years and still manage to play it about once a week. Every song on the disc is a complete gem. Nobody has the depth of expression of Tom Waits and this album catches him while his voice was at its raspy best. Sit back and let old Tom take you on a tour through his down-and-out world.
on April 22, 2003
I started my Tom Waits collection late in life - I picked up "Alice" when it came out. Until then, I was only vaguely familiar with his work. Listening to "Alice" I became hooked and started picking up other CDs.
I bought "Small Change" for "Waltzing Matilda" - a song I'd always loved. I can't take it off the CD player now. The whole thing is perfect - and it's hard for me to call any collection of music perfect. It's Tom from back in his 'romantic vaudeville' days, when his songs were all about love and loss and everyday junk. Later, he turned to the more carnival macabre feel - which is every bit as fantastic, but if you want essential Waits, this is the CD to get. Get this and the soundtrack to "One From the Heart."
Beautiful, beautiful stuff.
on September 17, 2003
I first heard this album when it came out in 1977 and listened to it until the grooves turned white. 26 years later, I bought the CD, more out of curiosity and respect for Waits' genius than a burning need to own. Man oh man, was I wrong ... the album still holds up and sounds fresh after a quarter century. No one can wallow in moon-in-the-gutter imagery better than Waits, and rather than play it as a cartoon, you know that for Tom it's genuine and the emotions are as raw as that phlegmatic voice. The term "masterpiece" is used too often and hence is in danger of meaning nothing, but this album restores its definition. Buy it if you're looking for something different, for that time when Waits was still within reach of most of us. [I highly recommend "Blue Valentine" as well.]